- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | Maryland is losing its homegrown movie industry to other states that give deeper discounts to filmmakers, director Barry Levinson said.

Mr. Levinson - director of “Diner,” “Rain Man” and “Wag the Dog” - came to Annapolis to advocate for a revamped film-incentive program that he said would make Maryland competitive with states like Connecticut and Pennsylvania, which have handed out hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits in recent years.

When Hollywood producers decide where to shoot their movies, “Maryland is not in the mix at this particular time, even though we had a great tradition and a very strong base here,” he said Tuesday.

Mr. Levinson, a Baltimore native, helped establish Maryland’s base of film-industry professionals in the 1980s with Baltimore-set films including “Diner” and “Tin Men.” Baltimore was also home to two long-running TV series, “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “The Wire,” that kept crews busy through the 1990s and much of this decade.

But Maryland has struggled to attract major movies or TV series since “The Wire” concluded its run last year. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a $150 million production that was honored last week with 13 Academy Award nominations, was originally planned for Baltimore, but was rewritten to take place in Louisiana because of the state’s generous incentive program.

Maryland currently offers cash rebates to movies and TV shows that shoot in the state, but the program is capped at $4 million in the current fiscal year, down from nearly $7 million in previous years. That means one movie can eat up the majority of the available rebate money.

“My One and Only,” a Renee Zellweger period piece that was shot in the Baltimore area last summer, claimed $3 million in rebates, according to data from the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

The legislation pushed by Mr. Levinson and other business and film-industry leaders would establish a tax credit similar to what’s offered in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Louisiana. Instead of giving producers a cash rebate upfront, Maryland would hand out credits valued at 28 percent of what a production spends in the state.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, said he would consider the idea if it could be shown that the tax credits would create jobs and stimulate the economy.

“We’ve got to promote economic development, even in tough fiscal times,” he said.

Despite the fact that Maryland would ultimately have to forfeit tax revenue, a revamped incentive package would be an economic stimulus, said Delegate Melony Griffith, Prince George’s Democrat, one of the bill’s sponsors.

“This is about creating opportunities for people to get to work who haven’t been to work in this state for a while,” she said.

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